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Escape Velocity

A Sense Of Urgency: WALL Interviewed
Gary Kaill , June 16th, 2016 08:38

WALL's debut EP is a set of stark post-punk tracks riddled with the pressures of striving to carve a place for yourself in the metropolis. They tell Gary Kaill why they're taking a "mind over matter" approach to moving forward

Photograph courtesy of James Ridley

There are but four songs so far, and they are all immense. Seek out WALL's self-titled debut EP, released earlier this year, and you'll be rewarded with the sound of the NYC-based four-piece taking the tired apparatus of guitar pop – specifically the anxious tremor of post-punk and the spare thrum of no wave – and investing it with a hunger and a glow rarely heard.

From the spoken-word expanse of 'Milk', with its surreal lyrics of the titular substance pouring from the sky, to the jitter and twang of 'Cuban Cigars', Sam York (vocals and guitar), Elizabeth Skadden (bass), Vince McClelland (guitar), and Vanessa Gomez (drums) play tight and hard, colouring their influences with sharply detailed arrangements. There's no sense of pose or distanced gaping, and the band flesh out their worldview with a spiked commentary, and when York sings, "Gotta fit the part to fit the part", it's a barbed rejection of corporate conveyor imaging rather than weary resignation.

Skadden and York, childhood friends from Austin, first toyed with the idea of forming a band in 2012, by which time they had both moved to New York. "We were at a show with Vanessa and Vince," explains Skadden, "and Vanessa had just started learning to play drums, so I asked her if she wanted to be in a band with us. We played a couple of times and it sounded good, and then Vince and Sam came over. We made up this song – literally after just an hour. It was a thing from that point."

"Yeah, that was July 2014," adds York. "It's almost been a year since we started to play shows and since then, everything just started to snowball in a really beautiful way."

Were there early indicators of who you were going to be? Did it become what it is now very quickly?

ES: I'd say it did. We made up one of our first songs in an hour, like I said, and it's on the EP, so it's a song we all still like and one that we still play. We actually play it as the first song in our set. So, yeah, I think that from a creative perspective, it always has worked. Which is good.

SY: I think we were really lucky with the shows that we got at the beginning, too. The response was always very positive and we all enjoyed the action and reaction of playing the shows and now we're really ready to take it forward and continue working together.

ES: We've had a lot of support. We appreciate that.

Let's talk about that creative process and what influences have fed into it. I hear a real flavour of some late ‘70s post-punk types – X-Ray Spex, Wire. How do you, as individuals with individual tastes, sift through your preferences and combine?

ES: Well, there are bands that we all like. We all really like Pylon. Everyone else likes Talking Heads, but I don't. At all. But yeah, stuff like that, sure. It's interesting also because there will be bands that are quite similar to each other or related in some way that we might not all like. So Vince, for example, really likes Alternative TV but I really don't.

SY: But what we do have is enough crossover in the sound of a lot of bands we all like as individuals to ensure a healthy mix.

'Cuban Cigars' is very Talking Heads. It's a great tune.

ES: Oh, really? Yeah, okay. I think we wrote that one after listening to The B-52's…

SY: Oh, man. It's so long ago I can hardly remember.

ES: Well, it was either The B-52's or Gang Of Four. Some of that flavour in there, sure. We definitely wrote after listening to something specifically… Sometimes at practice, we'll write songs after listening to certain bands, definitely.

On the EP, there's a lyrical thread that's very compelling: a sense of nervy watchfulness, pointed observation. On 'F.T.P.', you sing lines such as, "Gotta fit the part to fit the part" and, "I fear I've lost my place in this race". You can hear the city going by.

SY: I think that's a pretty fair description. A lot of my lyricism comes from, as you say, an observation perspective. I take small elements from my life and see how I might apply them to the wider world. 'Fit The Part' is, well, an homage to New York living. Most everyone I know does not have just one job or operates in more than one art form and so we're constantly trying to fit the part, for want of a better description. Also, the way the instrumentation is on that song, it helps bring out a feeling, a sense of urgency. In all of our lives in New York, on a daily basis, there's all this running around and this energy on the street. In that respect, New York is different to any other city I've ever been to. Such a huge struggle to make it into something that you want.

Another stylistic choice that works are the spoken-word sections. It's classic and timeless, and, really, more bands should try it.

SY: Yeah, I remember when we were practising 'Fit The Part' and I'd written all the words, and I knew it was possible to fit them all in, but that I would just be gasping for air because there are so many words in that central section. When I see it now, I wonder what I was thinking. Why did I do that to myself? But now I can do it. It has to be in a certain part of the set so that I have enough space in my lungs. And this is my first experience of writing lyrics, ever. So it's all pretty new, I'd say. I'm glad you think it works – we like it.

It sounds like you acknowledge that you're still working out how to be this band.

SY: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. Initially, I told myself that I was going to do this thing so I just went ahead and did it. It was like a mind over matter thing: I'm just gonna sit down and do it. I do a lot of things in my life that way. Oh, I'm going to move to New York! And you just do it. You figure it out. And now that we are exploring many different things within the band, within our sound, it has made me a bit more timid in a way. I'm a little bit more aware now of proper structure. That said, I've learnt so much since we started playing together. I've learnt a lot about how I write and what I think works and what doesn't work. I feel like I have a long way to go. There's a lot to learn for all of us.

The songs on the EP were written and recorded last year. Are there new songs?

ES: Yes, and they are very different.

SY: As I was saying, earlier, it's hardly been a year, really, since we've been doing shows. I had never been on stage before. Vanessa had never been on stage before. It's all so new. I think we all feel so much more comfortable than we did. I mean, I'm not scared anymore.

ES: Yeah, I don't get stage fright as much. But it's also so important for us not to write the same four songs over and over. One of our unrecorded songs is just one bassline and one drum beat throughout. It's seven minutes long and the only change that happens is with the guitar and the vocals, and so doing stuff like that is very important for us as a band, because then you can test yourself, develop, let other things happen.

WALL is out now on Wharf Cat Records. WALL play Market Hotel in New York on June 24 and begin a European tour at London Calling festival in Amsterdam on October 28, with a UK leg starting at The Old Blue Last in London on November 1; for full details and tickets, head here

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